From MGR to Karunanidhi, a leader’s death triggers wave of suicides

When matinee idol-turned-political leader M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) breathed his last on December 24, 1987, Tamil Nadu was waiting to explode. MGR passed away due to a massive cardiac arrest, he was suffering from various ailments, and at the age of 70 when he passed away, Tamil Nadu was literally burning.

As the news of the death of MGR spread, many people immolated themselves, some cut their veins, some drank poison and in the end, 30 people committed suicide two days after the news of MGR’s passing away came.

There are records of people wailing before his residence and shouting why they were living if MGR was not alive. Many cut their fingers, some cut their tongue. It was a public frenzy.

Apart from the suicides, 29 people lost their lives in police firing in the days after MGR’s death.

When MGR’s disciple and successor in AIADMK politics, J. Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo Hospital in Chennai, the same scenario was repeated. A large number of people gathered near the hospital hoping that their beloved Chief Minister will walk out hale and hearty. She spent 75 days in the multi-specialty hospital, the best doctors arrived from the United Kingdom along with expert doctors from India, but she could not be saved.

On December 5, 2016, the matinee idol turned political leader, then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa breathed her last. The Tamil Nadu government broke the news after taking all precautions and police were deployed at all vital installations.

When the news broke, mobs started wailing and thumping their chests and many turned violent. The AIADMK claimed that more than 300 people died of shock on hearing the news of Jayalalithaa’s death and that the party paid a compensation of Rs 3,00,000 to the family of each deceased. The party said that some committed suicide and some died of cardiac arrest.

However independent observers said that only 6 people committed suicide but the figures were not clear. When Jayalalithaa was incarcerated in a corruption case, 16 people had immolated themselves.

When DMK leader and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi passed away on August 8, 2018, it was a similar scene of wailing and chest-thumping and cutting veins. The DMK said that 4 people immolated themselves after the death of Karunanidhi but hundreds of people died due to shock on hearing the news of his demise.

This trend of fans and supporters taking their lives when their heroes pass away has been a phenomenon in Tamil Nadu. However, from the passing away of MGR in 1987 to the death of Karunanidhi in 2018, the people of Tamil Nadu have apparently become more mature and suicides have come down.

Retired psychology professor R. Perumal told IANS that “The psychology of certain sections of people in this state has been quite expressive and they take the extreme step of taking their life when a person whom they adored dies. It was seen when MGR passed away, during Jaya’s death and when Karunanidhi died. The number of deaths need not be taken as a benchmark. The point is whether the trend of people taking their lives is continuing or not and sadly it is continuing. People still have that urge to kill themselves in solidarity with the leader who passed away.”

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